Alfred Kempner was born in Breslau in 1867 as the son of a wine merchant and his wife. Kempner came to Berlin as a student of German and Philosophy. Beginning around 1895 he became well known as a theater critic and travel author. In 1909 he adopted the surname of Kerr. As a critic, he initially championed avant-garde authors like Gerhart Hauptmann. In 1912, Kerr became the sole publisher of the magazine Pan. The mordancy and irony that he directed towards the poet Heinrich Heine earned him admirers as well as enemies. He sometimes referred to his Jewishness in an off-handed manner. When the Nazis came to power, he fled into exile, anticipating persecution as a liberal author and Jew. After the Second World War he worked, among other cities, in Munich and Hamburg, where he died in 1948.
Flight and Forced Migration:
Persecuted as a Jew and as a liberal author, Alfred Kerr fled from his home at Douglasstraße 10 (see Home of Alfred Kerr) on 15 February 1933. Via Prague, Vienna and Zurich, he managed to reach Paris. From 1936 until the end of the war, he lived with his family in exile in London.
There Kerr wrote:
“Hitler: that is the mob that has read Nietzsche… That is brutality by imitation. Crafty as only a dullard can be... With these thoughts in my mind, I was lying in bed with the flu at home in the Grunewald when a telephone call informed me that my passport had been revoked. Despite a 102-degree fever, I jumped out of bed and strapped on a rucksack containing only the barest necessities. Three and a half hours later I was in Czechoslovakia. That evening I experienced deep happiness at being on the other side of the German border... “
(Alfred Kerr, Die Diktatur des Hausknechts und Melodien [Frankfurt a.M. 1983], p. 158, from “Die Diktatur des Hausknechts“, first edition Brussels 1934)
Exclusion and Alterity:
While in Nazi Germany Kerr’s books were banned and existing copies were publicly burned, he sought recognition as a German-language writer abroad. In 1934, his “Die Diktatur des Hausknechts” (“The Dictatorship of the Manservant”) appeared, followed a year later by “Walther Rathenau. Erinnerungen eines Freundes” (“Walther Rathenau. Memories of a Friend”). Kerr fought the so-called Third Reich in his works, and yet he had lost his linguistic homeland, as well:
“What is homeland? Childhood. Lullabies.
Learning to speak. The pull of memories.
Even in this rootless world
Desire and hope cannot be spoiled
So enough with all the bellyaching
For what more can be said?
You’re a classic in the making
In the Fourth Reich (when we’re dead)”
(Alfred Kerr, Die Diktatur des Hausknechts und Melodien [Frankfurt a.M. 1983], p. 158, from "Melodien", first edition Paris 1938)